What to do in a Legal Crisis
by Jayj Jacobs
These are the proven strategies, tactics and procedures to follow in order to successfully defend against an arrest or citation for practicing astrology (or “fortune-telling”), or to over-turn an ordinance that bans or overly-restricts the practice of astrology.
Always keep complete notes throughout the process. Take accurate and thorough notes on all conversations. Be sure to ask for and record the correct name and title of the person(s) you speak to. Record their phone number, the agency or department they are with, and its address. Outline your points before making important calls.
Who Did What? To Whom? When and Where? Why and How?
1. Verify the Source
When you first hear of a crisis find out where the story originated. Go to the original source. Track down the first person involved: get first-hand information. If the story was printed in a newspaper, call and talk to the reporter. If it was a TV or radio account, call and talk to the announcer or the reporter. Be persistent, don’t be put off, don’t give up. If an official notice was sent, look at the original and photocopy it. At the very least have it read to you and copy it verbatim.
2. Verify the Action
Was an arrest made? Was it by the Police or Sheriff’s Department? Was a citizen’s complaint filed? Or, were the officers acting on their own authority, or under instructions from their superiors? Who? Was the person taken into custody? Are they still in jail? Can they, or you, or several of you raise bail?
Were they given a citation or a cease and desist order? Was it a summons or a notice to appear? From what department? For when?
Is a hearing scheduled? If so, on what day, at what time, at what address? Before which officials of what department or agency? What can you find out about these individuals (personalities, political leanings, affiliations, or aspirations, religious orientation, etc.)? Is the hearing open to the public? Do you need to sign-up or schedule an appearance beforehand? Do so if you can. Do you need to present a petition or papers in writing? Can you? Is it possible/advisable to file formal legal papers at the hearing? What agency initiated the action? Is this the same one, or was it transferred to the one holding the hearing? What level of government — City, County, Regional, State — is involved?
Be Certain You Understand the Process, Procedure and Time-Table
3. Contact AFAN
Contact your local and/or regional area Coordinator. Contact any local members of the Legal Information Committee. The coordinator should know who in your area has legal information, and experience in activism and organizing. Contact the Chair of the LIC: firstname.lastname@example.org.
4. Get Legal Information
Ask for a copy of AFAN’s pamphlet “The Law and Astrology” which is available from the LIC for $2, or which you can view and download here. Check first if someone locally already has a copy. Better yet, order one now, before you need it. Get copies of the ordinance(s) invoked. Go to City Hall and ask for them, or go to the County Law Library for copies. Ask for information and assistance. The clerks are there to help you, they won’t hassle you or take your name. If someone has been arrested (which is rare) call the LIC chair immediately (with as much complete information as possible) and ask for a copy of AFAN’s Legal Information – Legislative Action Kit (LI-LAK). It is available free to anyone facing charges, or for $25.
5. Get Legal Assistance
Contact your attorney. If you do not have one, find out who in the astrological community is an attorney, or works for one. Ask for pro bono representation. Contact any Legal Aides, Paralegals, or legal secretaries with ties to the astrological community you can locate. They can be very helpful. Contact the local or nearest chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). This is a matter of infringement on Constitutional rights: that’s what they deal with. Ask for help. Other chapters have helped astrologers before. Contact the attorney referral service of your local Bar Association. Tell them the situation and ask for information and advice. You can also get a half-hour consultation with a specialist for around $25, and s/he may want to take the case. Contact the “Department of Human Rights,” the “Ombudsman” or the equivalent in your state. This is a human rights/civil rights issue.
6. Mobilize the Community
Call your AFAN coordinator. You or they should contact the astrology groups in the area. Have them call their members. Call all the astrologers you know. Ask them to call their friends and clients, call yours.
Ask Everyone to Call the Agency Involved and Protest
The more calls you make, the more influence you have. Find out who is in charge of the agency or department. The organizer (coordinator or whoever is appropriate) should call and ask for him by name. Sound like you expect him to talk to you, as if he were expecting your call. Offer to discuss a resolution to the issue. If you can’t get through, ask for his aide for legal issues. Introduce yourself, even to the receptionist. Anonymous calls aren’t worth much. If you have membership or titles within any organization use them.
Whatever the agency is, call your elected representatives, i.e. City Council or County Board and protest to them. Their jobs are on the line. Be civil and yet express emotion. Project controlled outrage, indignation, and/or something like, “how dare you…” or “you can’t be serious,” or “this is ridiculous,” or just “I object!”
If an arrest has been made call the District Attorney or County Counsel and ask that charges be dropped. Ask for a meeting. You may not get it but it expresses serious commitment and they will likely respond with more willingness to talk on the phone. Use the Legal Information/Legislative Action Kit. Tell them about other cities and AFAN’s successes. Say we are a national organization, this is part of a national campaign to reform or repeal these antiquated laws. Make notes of points to be covered before making any important calls. Get all your questions answered, make all your points. Be sure to get their points. Do your best to understand their point of view and their values. Discuss do not debate! You can only sell or enroll someone else based on their values. People “buy” because of the value or pay-off they see for themselves, and never because of why you would buy. Listen to how they are listening to you. Pay attention to them, and how they react or respond to you. Be with them.
7. Manage the Media
Call the local newspapers, radio and TV stations. Ask them to cover the story. Tell your side calmly, succinctly, quotably. Ask all the stations for “Free Speech” airtime. Write “Letters to the Editor.” Keep them short and to the point. Charges that the bureaucrats and police are wasting their time and our money usually get published. Try different approaches. Write several letters. Set up a letter-writing campaign. Tell it from your point of view: put the proper “spin” on the story. Define the issues for them: Free Speech, equal protection, free assembly.
8. Set Up a Private Meeting
Much can be accomplished in private, away from the glare of the TV lights, out of public scrutiny, without the temptation to grandstand and without the need to look good (in control, informed, etc.) in public. Come prepared, as if for a hearing (below). Contact: Sympathetic and influential Council members. The City/County Attorney; s/he advises as to the proper form and structure — and constitutionality — of ordinances. The District Attorney; s/he decides which cases to prosecute, plea bargain, and which charges or cases to drop. The Police Chief or Sheriff. Other possible contacts: Judicial review or ordinance review committees, The Presiding Judge.
9. Organize for the Hearing
Meet beforehand. Map out a strategy. Plan your presentation. It is best if several people make short presentations, and one person acts as organizer/spokesperson. Their job is to introduce the issue, stating the main points that each person will address, then sum it up at the end. Get everyone, including friends, family and clients, to show up at the hearing. They count bodies, but they do not take names. Dress for Success. Traditional with a little flair, but no baubles, bangles, beads or jeans. Pick your most articulate people to testify. Stay calm, be dignified, rational, respectful. Treat the hearing like a business meeting. Present yourselves as responsible members of the community, remind them that you are. Come prepared. Have your talks outlined. Prepare material to be submitted. Use the LI/LAK. Ask for what you want: Your Rights. Suggest alternatives, give them options. ALWAYS give them a way out, a way to win or save face. Support their desire to protect the public, you share it. Suggest a better alternative, a more direct, fairer approach. Don’t give up. Don’t be too impatient. Councils often postpone matters and schedule second, even third hearings. Even if you lose the first hearing, you can usually appeal. In the meantime you can lobby behind the scenes. This is usually what matters. A delay will usually work to your advantage. Repeat #6, above, as appropriate.
10. Celebrate and Share the Victory
11. Report to the Community
Make sure the media reports the outcome (or progress) accurately. Volunteer for an interview. Call or write the stations and the papers. Put the final “spin” on the story. Contact AFAN’s Legal Information Committee (email@example.com) and our Newsletter Editor (firstname.lastname@example.org). Report on what happened, what worked and what didn’t, and what is next. Others need to know about what you have done and to learn from your experiences.